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Scary tech to put a tingle down your spine

It's Halloween, and time to spark up the LEDs against the things that go bump in the server room. Here are 10 scary bits of tech that put terror into terabyte
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1 of 10 Boston Dynamics

While ZDNet UK openly embraces the advancing march of technology, we sometimes come across things that make our jaw drop. Here are just a few of them — 10 terrifying technology developments to celebrate Halloween.

Here's an old, spooky favourite. The BigDog robot, which lopes along at around 4mph, moves unnervingly like a real canine when pushed off balance. It can maintain a solid pace across snow and ice with little trouble, thanks to its multitude of sensors and balancing algorithms. This video from its maker, Boston Dynamics, shows the robot righting itself on ice.

It's powered by a 15HP go-kart engine driving a hydraulic pump connected to 16 leg actuators. Movement, navigation and balance are all co-ordinated using the onboard computer — a ruggedized PC/104 board stack with a Pentium 4 running QNX — and feedback from various on-board sensors for joint position, joint force, ground contact and ground load, plus a gyroscope and a stereo vision system.

Funded by the US Army's Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (Darpa), BigDog was created in 2005 by Boston Dynamics and is 3-feet long, standing 2.5-feet tall. It is capable of climbing a 35-degree incline carrying up to 150kg.

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2 of 10 Wikipedia

On 5 February, 1958, a B-47 bomber equipped with a Mark 15 (Mk15) nuclear bomb — minus nuclear capsule — struck an F-86 fighter in a mid-air training collision. According to a report (PDF) in 2001 by the US Air Force Nuclear Weapons and Counterproliferation Agency, permission was given to jettison the Mk15 into the waters off Tybee Island near Savannah, Georgia, because the bomb wasn't capable of a nuclear explosion.

Despite a nine-week effort to locate the bomb, it was not found. It still remains missing.

In 2000, Georgia congressman Jack Kingston requested a reinvestigation of the accident. The investigators concluded that if the bomb is intact and left undisturbed, it poses little threat. However, an undamaged bomb would pose a serious explosion hazard, if disturbed by a recovery attempt, they decided.

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3 of 10 Avishai Sintov and Tomer Abramovitch

The scuttling wall-climbing robot (pictured above) was inspired by small animals such as cats and rodents, and developed by Amir Shapiro of the Ben Gurion University of the Negev in Israel. It has four legs and is equipped with fish-hook claws to help it scale rough vertical surfaces.

Shapiro has come up with three other types of wall-scaling robot. One uses a hot, snail-like trail of glue to stick to walls; another is magnetic – making it ideal for traversing the submerged areas of ships to scan for contraband. The remaining one is a more lo-fi creation that uses a wheels covered with 3M sticky tape to climb walls.

The robots were initially conceived for Israeli military surveillance purposes.

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4 of 10 Johann Borenstein, University of Michigan

The creepy-looking robo-snake in the photo above is the OmniTread serpentine robot, which has been in development at the University of Michigan since 1998.

There are two versions: the OT-8, which can fit through an 8-inch hole, and the OT-4, which can go through a 4-inch hole.

Conceived as a rescue aid, the OT-4 has a drive shaft spine powered by a single electric motor in the centre. The spine runs through the middle of all the segments and provides torque to the tracks covering the outside of the snake, as can been seen in this YouTube video.

The OT-4 also has a unique pneumatic control method. This provides simultaneous proportional control of stiffness and joint angles, so that the serpent robot can go across extra-wide gaps.

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5 of 10 Grasp Lab, University of Pennsylvania

Developed by the Grasp Lab at the University of Pennsylvania, these swarming Quadrotors are capable of working as a pack to move around and pick up and transport objects, aided by sharp 'grippers' attached to the bottom.

As can been seen in this YouTube video, each Quadrotor is capable of carrying out precise and aggressive manoeuvres, such as speedily zipping in through an open window, at any angle.

The Grasp team has also given the Quadrotors the ability to successfully co-ordinate a strike through an open, non-stationary window, such as in a car or train.

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6 of 10 Boeing

Laser weapons are a staple of futuristic filmic villainy, striking fear into the heart of even the toughest secret agent.

In November 2009, Boeing said that using a laser attached to its Mobile Active Targeting Resource for Integrated eXperiments (Matrix) system, it had successfully downed five unmanned drones. It also destroyed another drone, using a Laser Avenger (pictured) truck.

"Matrix's performance is especially noteworthy because it demonstrated unprecedented, ultra-precise and lethal acquisition, pointing and tracking at long ranges using relatively low laser power," said Gary Fitzmire, program director of Boeing Missile Defense Systems' Directed Energy Systems, at the time.

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7 of 10 Hideyuki Sawada, Mitsuki Kitani, and Yasumori Hayashi

This robot's bizarre appearance is a distant reminder of freak shows and Hollywood horror's skewed human experimentations.

The fleshy device was created by researchers at Kagawa University in Japan to help hearing-impaired people improve their speech articulation. It consists of motor-controlled vocal organs such as vocal cords, a vocal tract and a nasal cavity. These generate a natural voice imitating a human vocalisation, according to the researchers.

The robot voice simulator mainly consists of an air pump, artificial vocal cords, a resonance tube, a nasal cavity, and a microphone connected to a sound analyser.

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8 of 10 US Air Force

Security agencies use this portable X-ray machine with Z Backscatter technology to find drugs, cigarettes, explosives and people in vehicles.

The American Science and Engineering (AS&E) technology, which detects low-atomic number materials and can see through clothing, has been criticised as a tool for breaching privacy. A group of US senators, including Joe Lieberman, wrote a letter in August to the US Department of Justice to complain.

AS&E's customers include the UK Border Agency, the US Department of Defense, and US Customs and Border Protection.

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9 of 10 Ben Woods/ZDNet

'Free Public Wi-Fi' seems an enticing prospect for the road-pounding traveller tired of getting stung by roaming fees — just as the Bates Hotel seemed a port in a storm for Janet Leigh in Psycho.

However, clicking on a network like that shown above does not actually connect the computer to the internet. Instead, it provides an ad-hoc connection to someone else's computer nearby.

Despite not providing any actual service, the so-called zombie network has spread thanks to a bug in Windows XP, which remains unpatched on many people's computers as they haven't updated to XP SP3. There's a chance that your infection will pull in other hapless victims whenever they come into range.

According to a report on National Public Radio's (NPR) website — which says said while not inherently dangerous, the bug provides a hole for hackers to penetrate a user's system — security expert Joshua Wright says that part of his job is to test companies' systems for vulnerabilities and that when he comes across 'Free Public Wi-Fi' "we break out the champagne".

Screenshot: Ben Woods

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10 of 10 Ben Woods/ZDNet

It's dark, you're home, and you think you're alone — but then it feels like someone is watching you. Is there anybody there?

The UK government is planning to introduce a programme to "preserve the ability of the security, intelligence and law enforcement agencies to obtain communication data and to intercept communications within the appropriate legal framework", it said in a security review published on 19 October.

Exactly what that would include is still unclear, but it is likely to be "similar" to the plans of the previous government to have ISPs, social-networking sites and other communications service providers collect traffic data on all web communications.

The technology planned for this was deep-packet inspection, which would provide sender, recipient, timing and location information of every email and other message sent via the web. The data gathered was going to be stored so that police and intelligence services could track any individual and to see who they were talking to.

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